It's human nature. You're in front of the TV, you flip past a car auction, and your jaw drops. The prices that some collector cars are bringing at places like Barrett-Jackson are mind blowing. A classic example is the Plymouth Road Runner Superbird. Here is a car so monumentally homely and impractical on the street that dealers were still trying to sell 1970 leftovers well into 1971. But, the droop snoot and tall tail were about function, not fashion. Race versions of the winged Mopars were so fast that NASCAR promptly outlawed them from the circuit. Couple that racing pedigree with the off-the-charts sums being paid for any original, Hemi or 440 engine cars these days, and in Superbird (and its sibling the Dodge Daytona), you've got rolling money machines. Want one? At a big-time auction, be prepared to spend more than you did for your first house, and maybe your second.
These kinds of results make us wonder what cars can be had today that might command some serious cash in the future. Now, anyone who says they know for sure is just full of fertilizer. But, it's fun to speculate, so let's give it a whirl, starting with some ground rules. For this exercise, we'll stick with American makes, and define "modern" as anything post-2000. The list will hit the high end as well as some choices that are more affordable (if less collectible). And, we'll apply traditional benchmark barometers for future value (high performance, fine (or far out) styling, innovations, limited production). In no particular order, then, here are our top 10 picks to turn Detroit iron into gold.
2000-2001 Plymouth Prowler.
Prowler's fatal flaw was that its body wrote checks that its engine couldn't cash. Plugging daily driver, V-6 power into a seriously slick looking retro rod was a disconnect that buyers couldn't get past-especially for $45,000 (2002). As a result, the factory-built car with the one-off, hot rod bod' never sold well. However, today's hard-to-sell translates into tomorrow's hard-to-find. Look for one of the limited production models like the red and black Woodward Editions from 2000 (151 built) or the 2001 Black Tie Editions (163).
Plus: Far out, hot rod styling in a factory-built car with a warranty.
Minus: Richter scale cowl shake and a trunk just big enough for a pressed shirt and a ham sandwich.
2007 Shelby GT500 Convertible.
Let's see. Shelby connection, supercharged, 500 horsepower V8, limited production, available as a convertible. When it comes to future collectible, the 2007 Shelby GT 500 Convertible may be as close as there is to a no-brainer. A fine candidate for a buy-and-hold strategy, as long as you include some sunny day driving in your game plan. Like most of the cars on this list, the GT500 is a blast to drive, which is the real reason to own one. Hey, if you're going to just park 'em under a cover for 20 years, you'd be better off sticking to Krugerrands, not cars.
Plus: Serious, supercharged, Shelby/SVT muscle, with modern day creature comforts.
Minus: Near fiddy grand when new, and still a solid rear axle.
2002 Chevy Camaro 35th Anniversary Edition/2002 Pontiac Firebird 35th Anniversary Edition.
In 2002, in a moment of classic, management myopia, GM scrapped Camaro and Firebird, so they could free up assembly line space for higher profit trucks. Now, 15 years later, truck sales have gone slack and GM's decided to bring back Camaro in 2008.
When it comes to collecting, the top line, "last" Camaros are an interesting play. The combination of choice is a Z28 with the SS and 35th Anniversary Edition packages. So spec'd, you've got a 325-hp street rumbler with a retro feel and a double shot of Chevy heritage.
Plus: Beefy, rumbly V-8, limited edition and last-of-the-first cache.
Minus: Cabin was dated, even in 2002. Status as "last" will soon be past, when the new model arrives in 2008.
2006 Shelby Hertz GTH.
For a brief time in the mid-1960s, you could walk up to a Hertz counter in many locations and drive away in a tuner Mustang. In 2006, Hertz marked the 40th anniversary of the first Ford Shelby GT-H with another edition of Hertz-badged rentals. While the new models lack the performance tuning of their Sixties counterparts, they still have a great, vintage vibe and one-off, good looks.
Plus: Limited production (Hertz says 500 units), classic, black and gold livery, fun factor of owning a small slice of Shelby/Hertz heritage.
Minus: Unlike the first GT-H, the new models are more show than go, and whatever you buy, it was driven like a rental car, maybe dozens of times.
2000-2007 Chevy Corvette Indy Pace Car Edition/50th Anniversary.
Here is a trio of late-model Vettes that that make for good speculation conversations.
Throughout the 'aughts, ZO6 has been the performance standard bearer for Corvette. 2001 was the first year for production of the hardcore hardtops, with 5,773 built.
Chevy celebrated Corvette's 50th birthday in 2003 with a Golden Anniversary package, featuring a beautiful, deep metallic red paint job, over a shale grey interior.
Finally, a Commemorative Edition package was offered in 2004, and made available on all Corvette models.
Plus: For the combination of low build count (2,026), and high performance (405 hp), the 2004 Commemorative Edition ZO6 may be the pick of the litter. Adding to their cool factor, the ZO6 Commemoratives had an exclusive, carbon fiber hood.
Minus: As with any hi-po car, you're buying the owner as much as the automobile. Find a fussbudget. They may be a pain to deal with, but you're more likely to score a pristine car.
2000-2007 Dodge Viper.
Viper's story is worthy of a Hollywood script. It was a concept car, never intended for production. But, such was the howl from those who saw it on the show circuit that Dodge decided they had to build it. Viper is a throwback: the combination of brute force in a barely civilized wrapper is both its main draw and principal fault. Production has always been low, which helps insure future value. Post-2003 cars are easier to live with. They have a few more concessions to civilization (a functional convertible top, roll-up windows), while still sharing the white knuckle driving characteristics of other Vipers.
Plus: Awe-inspiring performance cars and irresistible head turners.
Minus: Far from a relaxing ride, Viper requires an active driver. This is not a car for the faint of heart.
2007 Cadillac XLR-V.
Put a hand-built, supercharged V-8 in an agile, supple chassis. Fill the cabin with prime cuts of leather, exotic wood and a boatload of creature comforts. Wrap the package in an edgy, convertible body. That's the formula behind the Cadillac XLR-V, and the $100,000 sticker price should assure that the exclusive roadster stays exclusive.
Plus: A reeeeally fine combination of luxury and performance, and likely to be one of the least seen cars on this list.
Minus: Rarely seen means hard to find. And, if you do, most of the ways to afford one will get you 10 years in the pen, if they catch you.
2006 Ford GT.
In the Sixties, Ford burnished its brand with a string of racing victories at the prestigious 24 Hours of Le Mans. The 2002 GT40 concept car honored that heritage. Like Viper, the Ford concept was so well received on the show circuit that a production version soon followed. The body is a full-on homage to the '60s competition legend. Beneath the retro form, though, is a modern supercar. The supercharged, 505 horsepower GT can hit 60 mph from a standstill in 3.3 seconds, with a blistering top speed of 205 mph. Over its 2-year lifespan, some 4,000 were built.
Plus: Pricey ($140,000+) when new, and not getting much cheaper, any time soon. But, if you can catch up to one, it's an instant classic.
Minus: Helmet use should be mandatory, but not just for driving. Try getting in and out of a GT without smashing your head against the World's Largest Door tops.
2006 Chevy SSR.
SSR was a cool concept, and just different enough that it might've spawned a cult following. A retro-styled pickup with a retractable hardtop roof, SSR's fatal flaws were being underpowered and overpriced at the outset. The former was fixed in the last two production years-too late to change its fate. SSR's price condemned it to compete with every 40-$omething, two seater in the marketplace-a payload that proved too heavy for the cool Chevy.
Plus: Early year Signature series are the most rare, but were underwhelming performers. The final year models (2006) were the most fun to drive. The LS2 motor made 400 hp when linked to a 6-speed stick; a strong powertrain with a great, V-8 rumble.
Minus: Dentistry bills. This truck has some big time cowl shake.
2000-2007 SRT Cars.
The in-house, Mopar hot rod guys have spun out a parking lot's worth of tuner versions over this period. Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep models have all been given the once-over. The picks of the pack were the Mangum SRT8, 300C SRT8, Ram SRT10, Charger SRT8 and Neon SRT4. Less successful: Crossfire SRT6 and Grand Cherokee SRT8.
Plus: All the picks are a fast, a blast to drive, and none were made in large numbers.
Minus: Relative affordability makes them prime candidates for abuse. Buyer beware.